In the modern open-plan office, noise is a good thing! Or to be more precise ambient or background sound. The background hum of air conditioning, external traffic noise or, if you’re lucky enough, sound conditioning actually helps you concentrate for longer by reducing the clarity of interrupting conversations by co-workers. It also increases your speech privacy and acoustic comfort so you can go about your business in the knowledge others can’t hear your every word.
Although some noise cancelling headphones do help by blocking out sound (the type with cans that completely cover your ears), the noise cancelling technology actually works against you in the open-plan by cancelling this important background sound. Good noise cancelling headphones work really well on planes or when mowing the lawn because they kill the constant engine noise. In the office they aren’t clever enough to the cancel the random ‘notes’ of conversation but only cancel the ambient sound around them which actually make those words clearer and more distracting.
So, when you need to hit that deadline and max out productivity, make sure you have your ambient sound up and/or block conversation using less expensive in-ear ‘noise isolation’ headphones. When collaboration is in order, make sure you have optimal ambient sound level (40-45dB) so you don’t interrupt everyone else!